LX Group examines the Ninja Blocks system in the latest in a series of articles on the Internet of Things.
An Australian invention, developed only last year and originally released via the ubiquitous Kickstarter crowd funding system, Ninja Blocks are now a commercial product, available for use and billed as the ‘Internet of things for the rest of us’.
Similar to other devices, the Ninja Blocks also consist of two major elements – the hardware devices and attached I/O devices, and the software environment. Using this combination one can create sets of ‘rules’ that allow interaction between the hardware and the end user with a variety of methods. For example, temperature can be monitored remotely, alerts can be sent when a button is pressed, or an image can be emailed from the connected webcam, making them ideal for remote monitoring, security or personal interest applications.
Being an open hardware solution, the entire system can be modified at whim with all the design files available for download and examination. Let’s examine the hardware and software in more detail.
A ‘BeagleBone’, a single-board Linux-based computer running a 720 MHz super-scalar ARM Cortex-A8 processor is housed in an enclosure with an attached daughter board containing an Arduino-compatible microcontroller and a 433 MHz wireless data link. Three USB ports are provided to connect various sensors (such as temperature and motion detectors), actuators (such as radio-controlled AC outlets) and a USB webcam. Connection to the Internet is via a typical RJ45 connection or a Wi-Fi USB adaptor.
The Ninja Blocks retail package includes a wireless passive infrared motion detector, a wireless button, a wireless temperature/humidity sensor and a wireless door sensor. The wireless hardware operates in the consumer product 433 MHz frequency area, which allows integration with a wide variety of commercially-available products.
The cloud-based environment allows the user to create sets of rules that generate actions based on the data coming from the hardware. Like any other IoT system, one can also create specific applications for their own needs to work with the cloud service. They can also update the firmware on the Arduino-compatible hardware inside the Ninja Block to allow for customised hardware interactions.
Just like the hardware design, there are no secrets to the software and the Ninja Blocks API is documented including various examples growing over time. Any programmer with contemporary experience can get up to speed within a reasonable amount of time. However the system can remain code-less as the owner can simply work with the graphical cloud interface if need be.
The Ninja Blocks system spans almost every user type, from the interested beginner to the organisation that knows what they want and doesn’t have the resources to ‘reinvent the wheel’. Seemingly a simple product, the system offers a huge scope for customisation and adapting existing hardware is a genuine possibility.
Companies interested in moving forward with their own system based on the Ninja Blocks can partner with LX Group that has existing experience with the platform and a relationship with the Ninja Blocks organisation. LX Group is equipped to guide the client through the entire process from understanding their needs to creating the required hardware interfaces and supplying firmware and support for their particular requirements.
An award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia, LX Group specialises in embedded systems design and wireless technologies.